Monday, September 16, 2013


Title: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Author: Mary Roach
Published: 2013, W.W. Norton & Company
Genre: Nonfiction, Medical, Science, Humor
Source: Library
From Goodreads:
"America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour of our insides. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions inspired by our insides are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find names for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? We meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks—or has the courage—to ask. And we go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a bacteria transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal.

Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies."

I love the human body.  I find it completely fascinating.   I've never told anyone this but my favorite field trip in school was to go to UW-Madison to watch a surgery and visit their cadaver lab for my anatomy/physiology class. When I heard Mary Roach talking about Gulp on an NPR program, I knew I had to get this book.

My husband has two teenage boys.  I grew up with five brothers.  I am very aware of the nasty parts of digestion.  In fact, a favorite action my brothers took was walking up to someone, farting, then running away.  My son always seems to let one rip about one block before our house when driving home.  I have heard the question "Do you like seafood?" and looked upon nasty masticated "see food" way too many times to count.  I love to listen to my gut sounds and wish I had a stethoscope so I could hear them better.

Gulp was interesting.  I enjoyed the chapters that talked about professional smellers, the difference between competitive eaters and the average person, and  why pet food flavors don't appeal to humans.  I skipped over Chapter Four completely because it failed to interest me.  It was about a man with a hole in his stomach.  Despite the somewhat disgusting subject matter, Roach manages to write about food's bodily journey in a way that seems like she's chatting about it over coffee.

The last third of the book does focus on the lower end of the alimentary canal.  I learned how successful drug smugglers get their payload into the country.  Elvis really did die on the toilet and one chapter explains how that can happen.  The noxious gases our body produces cover a whole chapter.  Have you ever wondered if you could light your farts on fire?  And of course, she covers fecal transplants in the last chapter.  I had read about this before but it was in a clinical journal but Roach brought it down to the layman's level and surprisingly didn't make it seem that weird.

I really enjoyed this book despite the one or two chapters that failed to spark an interest.  I don't think I would buy it but Gulp is definitely worth a trip to the library.  I enjoyed it so much that I definitely need to check out Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.  Mostly because I am completely morbid and am fascinated with death. 

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